Monday, April 21, 2008

WORST MONTH EVER: Your host for the evening, Frank Booth

"Why do people like Frank exist?"

This line is what Blue Velvet is all about for me. We accept that bad people exist, its but what about the people who scare them? Who populates the nightmares of serial killers? David Lynch's villains are the answers to these questions, as they operate on a level of evil you never knew existed, and like Jeffrey says -- they do exist. For Blue Velvet's most memorable sequence, Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) experiences the worst night of his life, serving as the night's entertainment for Frank (Dennis Hopper) and his cronies. I haven't seen Hostel or its torture porn brethren, but I will still say that Frank's "joy ride" with Jeffrey is the best (worst) torture scene of all time.

Lynch carefully sets up Jeffrey's encounter with Frank by having the naive lad witness his terror beforehand. As he hides in the closet in Dorothy's apartment, he sees a nightmare unfold before him, with a domineering creature controlling an innocent woman and forcing her into horrific acts. Frank's bizarre fetishes and psychological weapons are on display for Jeffrey, who is paralyzed in fear and cannot even think of rescuing the victim he had just met. Jeffrey is so troubled by what he saw that he can barely relate what happened to Sandy (Laura Dern), and searches for words to explain Frank's evil. But Jeffrey's fear is subdued by hubris, as his life has probably never been better since returning to his hometown of Lumberton: he's involved with a high school beauty, playing the role of macho private detective, and is even enjoying an affair with a dangerous older woman. That Jeffrey dares to enter Dorothy's apartment again, knowing there's a chance Frank could enter again, speaks volumes of how much he's enjoying his situation. Jeffrey may have been on a personal high after his second rendezvous with Dorothy, but his night would soon enter a cataclysmic decline after opening the apartment door to leave.

"He's a good kid, Frank."

Since Lynch had established how much Jeffrey fears Frank, at this moment we need no convincing about how petrified he must be at coming face-to-face with his nightmare. Minutes after glowing with pride, Jeffrey can barely speak, and even Dorothy tries to hide behind the door after hearing Frank's voice. You can see the spark in Frank's eyes as he sees Jeffrey for exactly what he is and how he could be primped as another submissive doll. Frank's game is to slither his way around something valuable in your soul, and constantly dangle it in front of you so he can lead you where he pleases. With Dorothy it is her son, and Frank instantly realizes Dorothy herself can serve this purpose with Jeffrey.

Frank's "friends" may be trapped in a similar web, because even though they appear to enjoy themselves with the man, they also are skittish around him and sometimes act as horrified as anyone else at what he does. They seize on Jeffrey and start wearing him down in the car, knowing he is defenseless and not wanting to appear weak in front of the other jackals. Jeffrey can do nothing but play along as their pinata.

"Goddamn you are one suave fuck!"

At Ben's house, the night enters a realm of surreal trauma that has never been equaled. You can either laugh at this scene or look at it with Jeffrey's stone faced expression. It's hard not to giggle at lines like "Be polite!" or "Do you want me to pour it? No, I want you to fuck it! Shit yes, pour the fucking beer!", and equally difficult not to hold your breath as Frank continues to test Jeffrey's endurance and pain threshold. This scene is my favorite of any Lynch film, as he manages to turn a grungy apartment into an oddly beautiful retro nightmare. The director's trademark lamps bring a warm glow to everything, and there are so many strange sights and occurrences going on that it's impossible to take them all in with one viewing. To name a few:

--"I'm Paul!" x2
--Ben's dutiful, obese attendants who look like they belong in 1962.
--Lynch's amazing frame composition that manages to keep several characters easily in view without the screen feeling crowded.
--Dean Stockwell's other worldly performance as Ben, creating a character that defies explanation or description. Possibly the only person with more strange fetishes and mannerisms than his friend Frank.

It's also a credit to Lynch that the scene can be taken seriously at all with so many bizarre happenings and dark humor on display. It doesn't seem possible that something can walk a tightrope between nightmarish horror and profane humor, but what goes on at Ben's does exactly that. Jeffrey's nightmare doesn't end until after another terrifying trip in Frank's car, where he unwisely stands up to the monster. His ability to summon this courage gives viewers hope that there is an end in sight for the Worst Person in the World.

One last thing about Ben's, what the hell is that thing on the couch behind Frank?


J.D. said...

Great scene - possibly the best in the entire film (with its semi-sequel being Bobby Peru's intro. in WILD AT HEART complete with Jack Nance as a "rocket scientist"). Why I think it works so well is its unpredictability. When you first see it you really don't know what's going to happen next. What is Frank going to do? What is Ben going to do? There is a electricity in the air during that scene when you've got character actor greats like Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell trying to outweird each other. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great post - the "tightrope between nightmarish horror and profane humor" is a good way to describe how Lynch's filmmaking has the power to attract, hold, then toy with an audience when, given the subject mater, it should repel. And Jeffrey as "piƱata" is excellent!

Oh, and maybe the thing on the couch is the "baby" from Eraserhead all grown up?

Adam Ross said...

j.d. -- thanks for reminding me of Bobby's intro, that scene (that movie) .. what can you say?

thom -- Great summation of Lynch's style, and you're right -- I can see the Eraserhead "thing" wanting to hang out at Ben's house.